Celebrations | Persistent matchmaking finally brings couple together

Five years ago, Rabbi Jessica Zimmerman officiated at the wedding of a college roommate in Washington, D.C. As often happens in Jewish circles, a colleague of the bride’s mother asked about the rabbi and whether she was single.

The colleague gave Zimmerman’s phone number to a close friend, who passed it on to his son in San Francisco, Dr. Jonathan Graf. But as far as Graf was concerned, Zimmerman had two major strikes against her: She lived in New York, and she was a rabbi.

“I grew up Reform, and in Reform Judaism, we pawn our religion off on our rabbis,” said Graf, 41, an assistant professor of rheumatology at UCSF Medical Center. “It’s hard to bring rabbis back down to a human level and see them as human beings.”

And that was that.

Dr. Jonathan Graf and Rabbi Jessica Zimmerman photo/larissa cleveland

Meanwhile, after living in New York for 20 years — during which time she dated and performed numerous weddings for friends — Zimmerman was becoming a bit jaded. As the director of congregational development for Next Dor, a N.Y. and L.A.-based research organization looking to help synagogues attract younger members, Zimmerman thought a move to her native San Francisco would do her well. Her sister, Sabrina Zimmerman, had returned to San Francisco, and Zimmerman concluded the move would be beneficial both professionally, with a new Jewish scene to investigate, and personally, so she could meet new people. She moved in January 2011.

Soon after, her sister shared that she had a friend, Graf, whom she thought the rabbi might like. The two got to meet at a second-night seder that Zimmerman led in her parents’ San Francisco home (which they vacated for the occasion). But given that about 50 young adults attended, their interaction was limited.

A few of Zimmerman’s friends also took up the cause, mentioning Graf’s name time and again. But when she asked them “Why do you see us together?” the responses she got seemed akin to “Because he’s alive” or “Because he breathes.” Nothing they said piqued her interest.

Finally, her sister insisted that she really liked Graf for the rabbi, and that it wasn’t some random setup.

In January 2012, Graf was to host at his home a meeting of ACCESS, the young adult group of the American Jewish Com-mittee. Sabrina was organizing the event and invited her sister: Plan to stay afterward and help Graf clean up, she said. To which the rabbi replied, “Fine. Just don’t leave me there alone.”

After the meeting, the sisters stayed and talked with Graf for hours. Eventually, he asked the rabbi, “How come we’ve never hung out?”

When he sent her an email asking her availability, she gave him three dates she had open in the coming weeks. He said, “I’ll take all three.”

One of those get-togethers was a hike, during which they had plenty of time to talk. “We really did have a lot in common,” said Zimmerman, “and his answers to things I asked really resonated with me.”

It was on their second date that Zimmerman decided she would marry him. Graf took a little longer, but push came to shove when Zimmerman was planning to officiate at her sister’s wedding in Hawaii, and she didn’t want to bring Graf unless it was serious.

He came to the wedding.

Knowing that Zimmerman is nearly impossible to surprise, Graf said he figured the best time to propose was when she was preoccupied with work. So when she was invited to lead High Holy Days services at the University of Washington in Seattle last year, he suggested that he fly up for the weekend to see her beforehand.

On a hike up to a waterfall, he proposed, catching her totally off guard.

They married Feb. 17 at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco’s Lincoln Park. The wedding officiants were rabbis Micah Hyman of Congrega-tion Beth Sholom, where Zimmerman, 38, currently belongs, and Martin Weiner, rabbi emeritus of Congregation Sherith Israel, the synagogue she belonged to growing up.

After the bride and groom held separate gatherings in the park, they met to do the tenaim ritual in which both mothers broke a plate (which belonged to the bride’s grandmother) to signify their agreement to the match. All the witnesses signed the back of the tenaim agreement.

Then the couple held the ketubah signing, where the groom circled the bride seven times. Later, during the ceremony in the museum’s theater, the bride circled the groom seven times; they circled this way to make a distinction between their public and private relationship.

The Torah portion that week was Tetzaveh — which was also the bride’s bat mitzvah portion. Tetzaveh describes the garments of the high priests as having pomegranates hanging from their hems. The couple’s ketubah, by local artist Orna Weisberg, was done in ink made from pomegranates. Pomegranate seeds also were sprinkled on dishes throughout the meal.

Unions features a recently married couple with an interesting story. If you want to share your tale, or want to nominate a couple married within the last year, contact liz@jweekly.com.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."